Graphic Design: Elements & Principles

Watch this video featuring Paul Rand discussing these elements and principles…

Paul Rand Retrospective from Jeremy Cox on Vimeo.

Then, download and check out these PDFs regarding Layoutprimer and DesignPrinciples (created by super-talented Frank Chimero).

Elements: basic visual components to a composition

 is the basic element that refers to the continuous movement of a point along a surface, such as by a pencil or brush. The edges of shapes and forms also create lines. It is the basic component of a shape drawn on paper. Lines and curves are the basic building blocks of two dimensional shapes like a house’s plan. Every line has length, thickness, and direction. There are curves, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzag, wavy, parallel, dash, and dotted lines.


shape is defined as an area that stands out from the space next to or around it due to a defined or implied boundary, or because of differences of value, color, or texture. Shapes can also show perspective by overlapping. They can be geometric or organic. Shapes in house decor and interior design can be used to add interest, style, theme to a design like a door. Shape in interior design depends on the function of the object like a kitchen cabinet door. Natural shapes forming patterns on wood or stone may help increase visual appeal in interior design. In a landscape, natural shapes, such as trees contrast with geometric such as houses.

Texture is perceived surface quality. In art, there are two types of texture: tactile and implied. Tactile texture (real texture) is the way the surface of an object actual feels. Examples of this include sandpaper, cotton balls, tree bark, fur, etc. Impliedtexture is the way the surface on an object looks like it feels. The texture may look rough, fizzy, gritty, but cannot actually be felt. This type of texture is used by artist when drawing or painting.

Positive and Negative Space
Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. It may have two dimensions (length and width), such as a floor, or it may have three dimensions (length, width, and height). Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Space refers to the distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. There are two type of space: positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the space of a shape representing the subject matter. Negative space refers to the space around and between the subject matter.

Scale is how big or small something is in relation t o other objects. Scale refers to the process of making size relationships. Unless there is a scale of reference within a design, it is impossible to discern the relative size of objects and the meaning they represent.

Value refers to the relationship between light and dark on a surface or object. It gives objects depth and perception. Value is also referred to as tone.

Principles: general rules on how to use the elements

Balance occurs when all the design elements are equally distributed through the design. Symmetrical elements are arranged equally on both sides of a composition to suggest a stable or static motion. Asymmetrical elements create a deliberate  imbalance to suggest variety or dynamic movement.

Emphasis refers to areas of interest that guides the eye into and out of the image through the use of sequence of various levels of focal points, primary focal point, secondary, tertiary, etc. Emphasis/hierarchy may give direction and organization to a design, and avoid subconscious confusion to sometimes improve the design’s visual appeal and style. Emphasis hierarchy or focus is not giving each object in a project equal dominance within a piece of work. Emphasis or dominance of an object can be increased by making the object larger, more sophisticated, more ornate, by placing it in the foreground, or standout visually more than other objects in a project.

The recurrence of elements within a piece: colors, lines, shapes, values, etc. Any element that occurs is generally echoed, often with some variation to maintain interest.

Unity refers to a sense that everything in a piece of work belongs there, and makes a whole piece. It is achieved by the use of balance, repetition and/or design harmony.

Contrast is the occurrence of differing elements, such as colorvalue, size, etc. It creates interest and pulls the attention toward the focal point.

So… what does all this mean for you?

Of course, I want you to ingest these ideas, and keep them in mind when you are making things. In the future, you will create posters, brochures, magazine layouts, etc… and I want you to use these elements and principles to make them look great.

But in the meantime…

For this project, I want you to find examples of graphic design that illustrate each of these ideas. You will do so in the following way:

  1. Create a new account on
    About Designspiration
  2. Create a Collection called Elements & Principles or make several collections for each of the Elements & Principles, (i.e. line, texture, etc.)


  3. Add good examples that illustrate the Elements & Principles of Graphic Design.
  4. Complete your collection and send me this link via email ( when you complete this assignment. You will have next Saturday to work on this if needed.
    About Designspiration 2

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